We recently discussed the shocking effort by a California Democratic legislator to curtail free speech in a reckless effort to combat “fake news.” Now the Democratic California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has brought an equally chilling criminal case against two anti-abortion activists responsible for the videotapes that triggered national protests against Planned Parenthood. The 15 felony counts against David Daleiden and Susan Merritt are breathtaking and even warranted a rebuke from the Los Angeles Times. The prosecution could represent a radical shift toward prosecuting activists from environmentalists to animal right activists to pro life/pro choice protesters in their effort to record alleged abuses or violations.
While the defendants insisted that they were acting as journalists, they appear more as activists. Yet, people often applaud undercover videotapes of animal rights activists and others exposing wrongdoing or abuses. We have discussed such cases and whether they should be treated as criminal matters. My concern is that the response to these defendants is shaded by the embarrassment caused to Planned Parenthood.
The videotapes were heavily edited and the state law does make it a crime to record confidential conversations without the consent of all the parties involved. However, Becerra has brought crushing counts against these defendants in a case of obvious overkill. Indeed, even if Becerra was hellbent on bringing a felony prosecution, I fail to see why a plea to a single count could not have been negotiated without a threat of jail time. Becerra is laying the foundation for other prosecutors to show the same abandon in charging other activists. These cases raise troubling free speech implications.
What do you think?